The Lamborghini Espada

A remarkable motor car

Anyone who has met Ferruccio Lamborghini will know that he is a remarkable man with a passion for good motor cars and a natural flair for business and engineering. Having built up a very solid industrial empire in Italy, manufacturing agricultural tractors and domestic and industrial heating plants, he turned his attention to motor cars and from the very beginning in 1963 it was quite clear that his projected Gran Turismo car was a serious matter and not just a Turin Motor Show Special or "one-off". When he started his motor car production in a brand new factory at St. Agata, not far from Bologna, it was not his first contact with high-performance motor cars for he had been a regular customer of all the great car manufacturers, but never a very satisfied one, which was half the reason why he formed Automobili Lamborghini S.p.a. and gathered round him some keen engineers, Bizzarrini from Ferrari to design the 3 1/2-litre V12 engine with four overhead camshafts and downdraught inlet ports between each pair of camshafts, and Dallara to design the chassis, while Carrozzeria Touring were commissioned to do the bodywork. The resultant 350 GT coupé was entirely conventional, not particularly inspiring, and something of a cross between a Ferrari and a Maserati. All this was merely to get the factory under way and two years later Lamborghini made his first audacious move that really shook the exotic car world. This was the P400S or Miura, and it was the type of car that everyone said could not be built and even if it could nobody would buy it because it was too unorthodox. The V12 engine was enlarged to 4-litres and mounted transversely behind the driving compartment; transversely mounted four-cylinder engines, or even six-cylinder engines, were reasonable, but a transverse V12 made the mind boggle. Not only did Lamborghini make the Miura but in 1967 he started selling them and is still selling them today at the rate of about five or six a week. After that anything was possible, and probable, from Automobili Lamborghini S.p.a., so that when he said he was going to make a full four-seater GT car that would be under 48 in. high everyone stood back and waited expectantly.

I recall seeing the prototype down in Sicily at Targa Florio time and after the Miura, and perhaps because I was in a Lotus Europa, it seemed to be a vast great tank of a motor car, incredibly long, very wide and very flat, and altogether hideously ugly to my GT-orientated eye. Beauty or ugliness is in the eye of the beholder and when the Espada appeared as a production car at the London Motor Show in 1968 I remarked that it deserved a prize for the ugliest car in the Show, and promptly received strong letters from readers who thought it the most beautiful car at the Show! Whatever your views, there was no getting away from the fact that Lamborghini had done it again, this 48-in. high car had four proper seats, styled like those used in air-liners, with a large luggage compartment in the tail, and it was a whole step above the 2+2 concept, which invariably turns out to be 2 + two halves. The mechanical layout was conventional, with the 4-litre V12 engine fore-and-aft between the front wheels, driving through a Lamborghini 5-speed gearbox and a conventional propeller shaft to the chassis-mounted differential unit, the rear suspension being independent by A-brackets and coil-springs, as was the front suspension.

Thanks to the good offices of Lamborghini Concessionaires (Sales) Ltd., of Alie Street, London, E1, and Incom Public Relations Ltd., who work with them, I was able to borrow an Espada for a couple of days, albeit the two wettest days in February as far as Southern England was concerned. The first impression is that apart from an American car there can be nothing bigger than an Espada, not high mark you, for under-size people like myself can lean on the roof, but just big. As you start looking around it and sitting in it the size starts to diminish, and when you see that the wheelbase is only 8 ft. 8 in. (104.3 in.) and that all four seats are within the wheelbase, and the 4-litre V12, which is incredibly compact, sits between the front wheels, and that the track is 58.6 in. wide, you realise that this is no ordinary four-seater car and that its layout and weight distribution did not just happen to suit the stylist. The Campagnolo cast magnesium alloy Lamborghini wheels, shod with Pirelli Cinturato tyres, are very much at the corners.

At first glance into the driving compartment you think there are four foot pedals, but the one on the left is a very well placed clutch foot-rest, complementary to the accelerator pedal, so that you get a very nice splayed-foot stance when motoring. In front of you are a very large rev.-counter and speedometer, the former reading to 10,000 and the latter to 190 m.p.h. (Ferruccio Lamborghini always did like his little jokes), and also temperature gauges for oil and water, oil-pressure gauge and ammeter, as well as a battery of coloured lights to show you something is working, or it is not working, it is safe, dangerous or too late. Thankfully this lot have their own lighting system with a rheostat control to dim things down at night. The 5-speed synchromesh gearbox is controlled by a central lever protruding from a strange leather bag that looks as though your lady passenger has left her hat on the central panel. Just ahead of the gear-lever is an array of switches and knobs that cover just about all you would need, for the Espada is a very fully equipped motor car. There are heating controls, refrigeration controls, rear-window heating (windscreen heating is coming), electric window-controls, air vents, wiper controls, extra cooling fan controls, cigarette lighter, and even a yellow light to tell you the door is open! The last-named is presumably wired in circuit with the red lights in the trailing edges of the doors that come on when the doors open.

The V12 engine has six horizontal Weber carburetters feeding the inlet ports through curved manifolds, so a couple of prods on the accelerator pedal squirt sufficient petrol into the inlet manifolds for instant cold starting, turning the ignition key on the centre console actuating the very silent starter motor. Immediately you know you can only be in a thoroughbred Italian car, as the Lamborghini makes all the right sort of V12 noises, though very subdued thanks to good insulation, but the four tail-pipes out the back make beautiful music. The instant response to the accelerator is sheer joy and you feel that the Lamborghini engine ought to be a racing engine, yet the factory have never indulged in competition of any kind. Throughout normal running the engine uses an oil pressure of 8 kg./sq. cm. (over 100 lb./sq. in.) and oil temperature sat at 70°C, as did the water temperature. If you get in heavy traffic, as I did when returning the car, and the temperatures rise to 80°C you switch on extra electric cooling fans and these hold the temperature just over 70°C even with prolonged periods of idling at 600 r.p.m. The engine is so fuss-free that if a gap appears in the traffic you can squirt the car instantly in bottom gear up to a searing 5,000 or 6,000 r.p.m. and straight back to a quiet 600-r.p.m. tick-over, all of which makes the Espada an easy car to use in heavy traffic. In fact it is a rare car in being pleasant to drive slowly as well as fast, and pleasant on Motorways and in country lanes.

The steering, operated by a ZF steering box, is incredibly accurate, gives the right amount of "feel" and has no need for power-assistance. The most impressive thing about the Espada was the way its size diminished the moment you let the clutch in and drove off. It is so flexible and docile and everything works so easily that it was possible to potter round the back streets of the East End of London without any problems. Once out of the city, either on a Motorway or a normal trunk road, the Espada will amble along at any speed you want, from 600 r.p.m. in 5th gear, from which it will pull away with a small amount of snatching, to 7,000 or 7,500 r.p.m. in any of the lower gears, even 4th, and 6,000 r.p.m. in 5th (125 m.p.h.) is a comfortable cruising gait, with a nice hum coming from the engine, the throttles eased back, and remarkably low wind-noise from the Bertone body. Even on the streaming wet roads the stability was of a very high order and most impressive was the suspension and ride, sufficiently supple to be able to feel the wheels following the undulations of the road, incredibly well damped by its telescopic shock-absorbers, the suspension was more impressive, for you expect a 4-camshaft 4-litre engine to produce power and hum round like a dynamo at 7,000 r.p.m. or more, but the ride and suspension on a big four-seater car is another problem; comfort is easy to obtain, but directional stability coupled to good cornering, minimum roll or pitch and effectiveness at all speeds is another matter, and the Espada has all these and more.

The 5-speed gearbox has a normal H-pattern for the lower four gears with 5th gear to the right and forward, reverse gear opposite 5th, and the lever with its large wooden knob is spring-loaded into the 3rd and 4th gear plane. It is not a gearbox to rave about as far as the gear-change is concerned, but equally it is not one to complain about. It is a good manual gearbox, with the accent on Man, as distinct from Woman. It suits the character of the engine well enough, for when you wind things on to 6,000 or 7,000 r.p.m. the 350 b. h.p. is making things happen pretty quickly and it seems absolutely right to grasp a handful of wooden knob and have another gear ratio. Fourth gear is direct drive and 5th gear is 0.815 to 1, while the speeds in the gears at 6,000 r.p.m. are quoted as 40, 60, 85, 100 and 125 m.p.h., which show the splendid spacing of the ratios. Peak power is at 7,500 r.p.m., with 7,900 r.p.m. as the absolute maximum, but on the normal road 7,000 r.p.m. is more than adequate. In fact, on all counts the Espada was remarkable in seeming to always have something of everything in reserve, whether it was revs., gears, seats, braking; road-holding or ride, while the reserve of steering lock was incredible; just when you think you have turned the wheel to its maximum you find there is more to come and it is in the Triumph Herald category. This helps to reduce the apparent size of the car when manoeuvring and at first glance gives the impression of low-geared steering, which is entirely false, for on the open road the gearing is perfect for all speeds.

The interior of the body is lined with leather; in the case of the test car it was brown, with yellow paintwork (although it is officially called "champagne"). The shaped seats are in leather and these were the only things I did not like, the base of the seat being too rounded in a fore-and-aft direction, with insufficient support under the thighs. This was not a new car, it had over 10,000 miles on the odometer, and the quality of the paintwork left something to be desired, the all-steel body-cum-chassis unit showing nasty rust pittings already, which made the detailed instructions of touching-up the Thermoplastic Acrylic "Duracryl" paintwork all the more poignant.

I still think the Espada is an ugly car, but for all that it is a remarkable car and it does everything to a very high standard and must represent the ultimate in exotic four-seater cars, even without taking into account the exotic British price of £10,950 all on, but without road tax and insurance. £11,000 is a lot to pay for any car, but it is nice to know there are people who will do this, and that there are people like Cavaliere del Lavoro Ferruccio Lamborghini who are prepared to make them, and people like Lamborghini Concessionaires (Sales) Ltd. who will let me drive them.—D. S. J.